By Charles Kapner
In 1921, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department in conjunction with The Seattle Times, began two youth athletic contests that would span nearly a half century. The brainchild of Ben Evans, Parks Playfield Superintendent, the Old Woody baseball contest and Old Ossie football contest would charm countless young sports fans.
Old Woody (a nickname for Old Woodenface), was a wooden frame with a rectangular hole the width of home plate and simulated a strike zone. Contestants threw baseballs at the frame from 50 feet away. If three pitches (strikes) made it through the hole before four balls missed the target, the imaginary batter struck out and the contestant then faced the next imaginary batter. Once an imaginary batter was “walked”, the contestant was done. Originally the contest visited Seattle area playgrounds only, but in time, it was expanded to other northwest Washington cities. To be eligible, contestants had to not be older than 14 as of the starting date of each yearly contest, usually around April 4.
The winners at each playground received prizes, which varied over the years. Usually the winner received a Seattle Times pin, but through the years prizes included hats and baseball gloves. The winners would meet in June for a chance at the grand prize and bragging rights as the best pitcher in the area. Those grand prize winners received more expensive items such as trips to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, an Alaska tour or 10 days at Mount Rainier. In at least one of the war years, the grand prize was limited to a $25 War Bond.
The finals were contested at a variety of places over the years, including Lower Woodland Park, Civic Field and Sick’s Seattle Stadium. Early in the contest years, the finals were preceded by a large downtown parade.
Most years, all contestants received a free pass to a Pacific Coast League baseball game. Depending on the year, that would be a trip to see the Seattle Indians, Seattle Rainiers or Seattle Angels. In addition, all contestants received a cardboard souvenir scorecard, which had the numbers one through 27 around the border. Each time a strikeout was recorded, a number on the card was punched. If all 27 numbers were punched, the pitcher had thrown a “perfect game”. Usually the Seattle pro team’s manager was pictured in the middle of the card. A punch somewhere in the middle of the card indicated that the contestant had walked a batter and was finished until next year. Finally, each contestant had his name published in The Seattle Times.
Old Ossie (a nickname for Old Oswald) was essentially a punt, pass and kick contest. Contestants could earn a maximum of 72 points. The participants had an opportunity to try up to 12 punts, 12 drop-kicks and 12 passes. Successful punts originally had to travel 20 yards and were worth one point. Over the years, the punting distance was eventually increased to 25 yards. Successful placekicks, worth three points each, traveled 15 yards through the goal-post uprights. Two passing points were earned for each 15 yard throw through Ossie’s 6- foot hoop. Any unsuccessful attempt ended the contestant’s efforts in that category.
Old Ossie championships usually took place at the University of Washington. As with the baseball contest, all participant names were published in The Seattle Times and the kids received free tickets, this time to Husky football games. Prizes over the years included gold watches, silver fobs, belt buckles and Rose Bowl tickets. Contestants were allowed up to age 14 as of the September start of each year’s contest. The middle of the Old Ossie scorecards often pictured the Huskies’ head coach.
Many notable Seattle athletes competed successfully in the Old Woody and Old Ossie contests. Stew MacDonald, who later pitched for the Seattle Rainiers, was a two-time winner of both contests. Fred Hutchinson was an Old Woody winner, as was his brother, John, who won in 1923. Fred also came in second in the 1931 Old Ossie contest. Max Soriano was the Rainier Beach Old Woody winner in 1937. Al Hostak, future middleweight boxing champion, won the 1928 Old Ossie contest.
There were a few memorable Old Woody championship contests over the years. In 1950, George Kritsonis (who later pitched for the Washington Huskies), squared off against Bob Fossatti in Sick’s Stadium, before a Rainiers game. The two matched each other strikeout for strikeout. Their successful outing went on so long that they were stopped and moved to another location so that the Rainiers game could get started. When it was over, Kritsonis was the winner with 31 strikeouts against Fossatti’s 30.
In 1960, Bruce McFarlane edged Rick Terracino 33 strikeouts to 32. But the all-time classic came in 1964 when Kent’s Wayne Carmack defeated Shawn Sorenson at Lower Woodland Playfield, 46 strikeouts to 45.
Many adults today look back fondly on their memories of the Old Woody and Old Ossie contests.
Charles Kapner, local sports historian/memorabilia collector, participated in the Old Woody contest in the mid- to late-1960’s. He avidly collects souvenirs of both contests as well as old items from local sports teams, and displays his collection often at local public venues.
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